Seventh-day Adventist Community Chaplains Association
ACCOMMODATION OF RELIGIOUS PRACTICE IN THE MILITARY
Most nations' populations are pluralistic in composition. Few nations of the world are comprised wholly of one ethnic heritage, race, religion or tribe. Military forces usually represent a cross-section of their nation's population, especially if conscription is the main source of manpower. As a result, military leaders must meld a diverse group of people into a cohesive organization that has the willing support of members to fulfill the military mission. Some leaders use coercion and force to insure compliance and obedience to military objectives. Wiser leaders understand the need to care for the whole person and use respect, values and education to achieve voluntary support for accomplishing the mission.
Each human being comprises several elements: physical, mental, emotional, volitional, relational, spiritual and sexual. These elements are inter-related and inter-dependent. Ideally, they develop and function in balance and harmony. When one is deprived, hurt or ignored, it affects the rest. Religious beliefs, practices, faith, values and goals make up the spiritual element of man and form the basis for relationships.
Occasionally, misunderstandings arise when military and religious requirements place a service member in the difficult position of choosing between legitimate goals, loyalties and values. Like family ties and patriotism, religious beliefs and practices are deeply personal - even to those who hold an agnostic perspective. Most conflicts over military requirements / expectations and religious practice occur around the following issues:
(1) Misconceptions about challenges to authority and power by leaders.
(2) Religious practices and worship of emerging or less-known faiths.
(3) Observance of sabbaths and / or holy days.
(4) Conscientious objection to killing or bearing arms (weapons).
(5) Religious dietary restrictions.
(6) Wearing religious apparel/clothing.
(7) Medical treatment.
(8) Lifestyle differences with peers.
Accommodation of religious practice creates a healthy command climate that fosters respect for everyone; it does not open a Pandora's box of problems for the commander.
During my 36+ years of military service I observed that military members who consistently practiced religious values also had more reliable work ethics, were more involved in their communities and caused units less problems; i.e., they were not as prone to abusing drugs, getting drunk, or engaging in the immoral behaviors that are all too prevalent in most societies. Often, soldiers involved in practicing their faith earned many awards for community service and volunteerism. Assisting these good citizens to practice the very values which make them valuable to their units and communities is just common sense and responsible leadership. Smart commanders enhance spiritual fitness; and spiritual fitness contributes to moral ascendancy and winning victories.
Historically, accommodation of sincere and consistent religious practices has been inconsistent by military leaders. Requests for accommodation of religious practice are often viewed as challenges to authority, attempts to get out of work or get over on the unit. That is seldom the case. Responses to sincere requests for accommodation of religious practice indicate the quality of leadership abilities more than legitimacy of faith. Even in those rare cases where a spiritually-minded military member performs military duties in a sub-standard manner, infringement or restriction of religious accommodation should not be confused with or used as disciplinary action or punishment for other duty performance failures. Discouraging spirituality becomes counter-productive to corrective measures. Commanders have other options for improving duty performance and / or disciplining deficient duty performance.
Certain essential military missions could possibly delay or temporarily limit some religious practices:
(1) Actual combat and deployment movements.
(2) Operations to protect government and citizens against insurrection, riot or terrorism, both imminent and occurring.
(3) Responses to natural disaster; i.e., flood, tornado, etc.
(4) Assistance to maintain public health and welfare; i.e., preventing an epidemic of disease, providing potable water, etc.
Seventh-day Adventists teach church members civic responsibility and to be "good neighbors" in their communities and countries. But Adventists also believe that though lawful human governments have a rightful claim on allegiance, human beings have a higher obligation to divine authority as revealed in the Scriptures (Holy Bible). When conscientious religious convictions come into conflict with man-made authority for priority, an Adventist must place the spiritual over the temporal and "obey God rather than man." Acts 5:29. Whenever possible, Seventh-day Adventists seek to be "conscientious co-operators" rather than "objectors." We seek the understanding and goodwill of proper governmental authorities in our endeavor to be good citizens of the "kingdom of heaven" as well as the kingdoms of this world.